The murder-suicide involving a University of Maryland, College Park, student who was on medication for mental illness will likely affect the debate over Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control bill and its safeguards against gun purchases by the mentally ill.
State lawmakers have remained quiet in the aftermath of last week’s shooting by Dayvon Green, a 23-year-old graduate student whom authorities say shot his two roommates — killing one — before turning the gun on himself.
The governor’s bill would make it harder for people with documented mental illnesses to legally purchase handguns, but it is not yet clear whether its restrictions would have stopped Green, who legally bought the 9 mm pistol he used in the killings and a semiautomatic Uzi rifle that wasn’t fired but was found at the scene.
Many lawmakers say they are waiting for more details from the police investigation before deciding whether Green’s case could force changes to the legislation, but gun bill supporters insist the incident is further proof of its necessity.
“We have an epidemic of gun violence and this is just another example of it,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee which is vetting the bill. “It’s another one that was potentially preventable if we had reasonable measures in place, but we’re never going to be able to prevent every single gun tragedy.”
Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, has been harshly criticized by Republicans, gun-rights activists and even some Democrats for his sponsorship of the bill, which also would ban assault weapons, limit handgun magazines to no more than 10 rounds and require residents to obtain a license and pay a $100 fee before buying a handgun.
Hundreds of protesters rallied against the bill on Feb. 6 in Annapolis, but their complaints were mainly over those provisions and not the legislation’s restrictions on purchases by the mentally ill.
Current law bars any resident from possessing a handgun if they have both a documented mental illness and a history of violence, or if they have spent more than 30 consecutive days in a mental health facility.
The governor’s bill would extend those restrictions to anyone who is subject to a protective order in another state or has been found incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible for psychological reasons in court.
Green had no criminal history and spent an undisclosed amount of time in a mental facility, but Mr. Frosh said he thinks the governor’s bill would have at least made it harder for him to kill because it would ban the Uzi that he had but did not use.
A representative from the governor’s office declined to discuss the Green case and whether it could affect the bill until after the investigation plays out.
Republicans have acknowledged that preventing gun crimes by the mentally ill should be a major priority but have said they would prefer to see it done through programs encouraging people to seek help for themselves or others dealing with psychological issues.
“The bill does nothing to make community services available or help people get treatment,” Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Cecil Republican, said this month. “Why don’t we address the real issues with mental health and address the criminals first?”
Shannon Frattaroli, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, said developing legislation to address gun ownership by the mentally ill is often difficult because lawmakers have to find solutions that improve safety without intruding on gun owners’ rights or stigmatizing mental illness.
She said many mental-health advocates worry that harsh laws may discourage people from seeking treatment, and she added that studies show most people with mental illnesses are no more likely than the average person to commit violent crimes.
She said lawmakers have good reason to re-examine their laws following violent tragedies such as the Green shooting and December’s mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., but that the public has an incomplete understanding of such issues.
“We don’t have a lot of good research to inform and help us approach this problem,” Ms. Frattaroli said. “It’s a thorny issue.”